Italy has over 350 grape varieties officially permitted in wine production, and a further 500 documented varieties planted. Given that, there’s a good chance you haven’t tried them all yet! Alex, Trainee Manager at our Muswell Hill store, has picked 5 to explore:
Canaiaolo nero is a lesser-known red grape variety, mostly grown in Tuscany, where it can be used in the blend for Chianti DOCG, Italy’s most exported wine. It functions much like merlot in a Bordeaux blend, softening tannins and adding juicy red fruit flavours, matching with the ripe flavours of tomatoes. Although it has declined in popularity over the twentieth century, the grape is still grown in Chianti and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano zones, and there are plans afoot to increase its quality and durability through better clonal and mass selections, as part of the drive to improve the standing of Italy’s wines and their potential for bottle ageing.
Pecorino, a white grape, supposedly gets its name from the fact that the grape bunches grow in a triangular shape, reminiscent of the head of a sheep (pecora in Italian). A local speciality of the Marche and Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast, this variety is growing in popularity due to its fresh style and clean minerality. In a rather lovely coincidence, it pairs very well with the soft Italian cheese of the same name.
Corvina, another red grape, is the dominant grape variety of Valpolicella and Bardolino in the North-East of Italy. It has enjoyed great success in the Amarone style, and its ageing potential and power as a single varietal has been well demonstrated by producers such as Allegrini. Corvina is a great exponent of the characteristic Italian sour red cherry tang, often accompanied by deeper herbal notes and black fruit. It matches well with game or duck, making it an interesting alternative to Rhône.
Greco Bianco, is a white grape usually grown in Southern Italy, which was likely originally brought over from Greece over 3000 years ago. It produces delicate, lightly aromatic wines reminiscent of Viognier, particularly at higher altitudes, with an added light herbaceous flavours. Although it usually produces dry wines, some believe it is a clone of a grape of the same name used to make sweet wines made with partially dried fruit on the south coast of Calabria. Greco tends to drink well in its youth, and matches well with shellfish.
Dolcetto is a lighter red grape, almost exclusive to a few provinces of PIedmont, in the North-West. The grape tends to ripen early, and so can be grown in higher or north-facing slopes, which are too cool for many other grape varieties of the region. Although literally meaning ‘little sweet one’, this refers to the grape’s low acidity, as it produces dry wine with firm tannin and gorgeous fragrances of violet and liquorice that goes very well with cold cuts of meat.
You can find out more and browse our range of Italian grapes and wines here!